The second major hotel stay on our 2016 Hawaiian get-away was at the opulent Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria resort. Our two night stay wasn’t nearly enough time to fully appreciate the scope of this place. One of the first major resorts built in Wailea, it covers 40 acres and has almost 850 guest rooms. Like every property in the Waldorf Astoria portfolio, the Grand Wailea oozes elegance. . . and has a price tag to match. Including all taxes and fees, the cash price for our room was 480.90/night. Our cost after employing value tactics? $31.25/night! Before I get to the full cost breakdown, here’s the review:
Grand Wailea Resort Overview
Coming directly from our 4 night stay at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui, we were shocked at the size of the Grand Wailea. The resort boasts 847 guest rooms, 5 dining options, a swim-up grotto bar, a large spa and fitness center, an on-site wedding chapel, several shops and art galleries, a full service beach club, cabanas for rent, and a huge pool complex featuring water slides, a lazy river, a sand bottom zero-entry pool, Tarzan swing, SCUBA dive pool, a water elevator, an adults-only pool, and several hot tubs.
Add to all that countless koi ponds, waterfalls, lush tropical gardens and landscaping, huge open air atriums, scattered statues and other artwork, a large beach, and on-site Luau area. . . this place is IMPRESSIVE. If you’re ever in Wailea, it’s worth a drive around the valet loop just to get a small visual taste of the Grand Wailea’s grounds and architecture. If you don’t happen to be in Wailea right now, you’ll have to settle for a few of my photos:
Around 1:00 on a Saturday afternoon, the front desk was a zoo. At check-in Nicoleen’s Hilton Gold status was recognized and we were given 1000 bonus points, a $20 gift certificate for Bistro Molokini, and 2 drink vouchers for the Botero Lounge.
The bellman then escorted us and our luggage to our room on the 6th floor in the Molokini Wing, far, far away from the lobby. He gave us a brief tour of the room and left to fetch a microwave at Nicoleen’s request.
Since we booked our 2 night stay with Hilton free weekend night certificates, we got the cheapest room category on the property, the “terrace view king.” Of course this was code for “parking garage view.”
We knew this going in and expected the worst. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the beauty of Hawaii trumps the frugally devised room placement of hotel developers. Even the worst views on Maui are beautiful:
In contrast to our room at the Andaz, this one was more about traditional luxury. The king bed was very comfortable, with a custom embroidered Waldorf Astoria duvet cover and an ample pillow supply. There was a writing desk with regular and usb charging outlets.
The bathroom was marble and granite, featuring a separate shower and tub, toilet closet, and a large vanity. Nicoleen appreciated the large vanity after the cramped situation in the Andaz bathroom.
Then lanai (balcony) was small but the furniture was comfortable.
Unlike the Andaz, the Grand Wailea has mini-fridges in every room. Above the fridge was a Keurig with a selection of coffee and tea.
Grand Wailea swimming pool complex
The swimming pool area at the Grand Wailea is EXTENSIVE. After 2 days of using the pools, we were still getting lost trying to get from one place to another. All of the water features are woven into the garden landscaping. The Grotto Bar, the beach & pool shop, Bistro Molokini (restaurant), and the Volcano Bar are all integrated into the pool area as well. It’s truly an impressive attraction and is about as close as you can get to a water park experience without actually going to a water park.
Each day, registered guests need to check in at a pool desk to get the day’s wrist band, which is a different color every day. We saw some lucky kids wearing 6-7 different colored wristbands all at once. We only used the pools for 2 days but I wanted to be cool too, so I kept mine on all the way back to Minnesota 🙂 Towels and complimentary sunscreen were also available at the pool desks.
Understandably the pool area was pretty crowded most of the time. However, despite what we read online, it wasn’t hard to get a chair or umbrella as long as we got out there reasonably early (8:30 and 90% of the chairs around the Hibiscus Pool were still available).
With the number of pool features at the Grand Wailea, the easiest way to review them all is to list each one and offer some thoughts on each:
- Hibiscus pool: This large adults-only pool is made up entirely of 1″ mosaic tiles, with a 630,000 tile hibiscus flower design on the bottom. Although some of the adults were acting like children when we were there, it was our go-to area to get chairs and was the most relaxing and quiet spot in the whole pool complex.
- Grotto Bar: (covered in the “Dining” section below)
- Lazy River: This river doesn’t make a complete circuit. It starts at the bottom of several cascading pools connected with tiny slides. The first slide on the lazy river portion is wide enough for a tube. The current moves you along the river, with chances to exit at all of the other major pool features. We bought a cheap tube ($8) from the beach/pool shop and floated down the river one time. If our stay would have been longer we would have probably utilized it more. And in case you’re wondering, it’s perfectly fine to bring drinks with you down the river.
- Water Elevator: Supposedly this is pretty cool but after asking the attendant about it, we later returned to find it had just closed for the day.
- Water Slides: A quick search online will inform you that the largest and fastest slide recently closed permanently. The other slides are apparently fun as well, but when we went to use them on our last afternoon at the Grand Wailea, they had just closed for the day.
- Baby beach pool: This is a zero-entry pool with a sand beach. We saw it as we floated by on the lazy river. It looked like the tiny kids were enjoying it.
- Tarzan rope swing: We didn’t try this but it was getting some pretty good use from lots of screaming, excited kids, so I assume they liked it.
- SCUBA dive pool: We didn’t use this pool but we thought it was pretty cool that there are mosaic tile fish and coral reef adorning it’s walls and floor.
Overall the swimming pool complex at the Grand Wailea was very fun, and we thought it had more potential we weren’t able to tap into during our short stay. However, we have a few complaints. The odd hours of the different pool features surprised us and prevented us from even trying out several of them. A closer look at the resort’s website reveals the actual hours:
Pools: 7am – 10pm
Slides: 10am – 5pm
Water Elevator: 11am – 4pm
Even the Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM, being connected to the pool system. The “normal” swimming pools close at 10:00 PM, which is standard for most hotels but nonetheless annoying. With over a thousand guests, I’m sure at least a handful of adults would enjoy some late night relaxation in the hot tubs or Hibiscus pool.
The last complaint about the swimming pool complex might be considered a nitpick, but many other reviewers have noticed it as well. A lot of tiles were missing from all pool areas, the painted coating was worn down to concrete on some of the slides, and some of the concrete along the pool edges was crumbling. This is to be expected for a resort of this age, but it did slightly detract from the experience.
Beach and Other Amenities
In contrast to our previous nights’ stay at the Hyatt Andaz, it was hard to figure out what was included with our $30 resort fee (waived for us since we used free night certificates) at the Grand Wailea. The website says it’s good for free internet (which we got through Nicoleen’s gold status anyway), beach umbrellas for use on Wailea Beach, admission to twice daily SCUBA clinics, bike rentals, and free local phone calls (what year is this?). We didn’t use the bike rental or SCUBA lessons. The beach in front of the hotel is actually a public beach, so the umbrella perk was probably worthwhile for some people. (NOTE: being a public beach means alcoholic beverages are technically not allowed.)
The beach itself was much like the rest of the beaches in the area: spotless, calm in the morning and rougher in the afternoon, almost purely sand, and warm.
The on-property shops reminded us of the “impulse buy alleys” that you find on some cruise ship piers in the Caribbean. However, unlike these duty free circuses, the Shops at Grand Wailea weren’t staffed by pushy salesmen. There are several art shops/galleries, clothing and swimwear stores, and souvenir shops. If we had the budget and the kid-free house (seems like those two things might go together) for fine art, we would have loved to buy one of the awesome glass framed photographic prints we saw, or one of the crashing wave glass sculptures. I’m sure we would have been shocked by the prices on these pieces so we didn’t even check, but they were lovely to look at!
We were flying out the evening after our last night at the Grand Wailea, which meant we had an entire day to fill after checking out. We had no luck trying for a late check-out, but we were offered the continued use of the pool and grounds until we departed. Living out of a beach bag for most of the day is inconvenient but the front desk person made it easier by offering us the use of an hospitality room. We just had to notify the front desk when we were done swimming for the day and they gave us a key and told us to try and keep it under an hour. We were able to take showers, get changed, and repack our carry-ons. The hospitality room available for us was a suite in Napua Tower:
Neither Nicoleen nor I used the fitness center or the spa, so I can’t comment on these.
Of the multiple restaurants and bars available at the Grand Wailea, two were under construction during our stay. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a was being relocated and the Volcano Bar was being renovated. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a had plastic sheeting in the windows and the pool surrounding the restaurant had been drained. The whole thing was an eyesore. The Volcano Bar was getting boarded up while we watched the Sunday night NFL game from the nearby Grotto Bar. They set up a temporary replacement bar with a limited selection of menu items in tents near one of the pools. I guess there’s no good time to remodel a bustling resort, and yet it has to be done; but it’s still annoying when it happens to fall on the dates of your stay.
Our first evening at the Grand Wailea we decided to use our $20 voucher at Bistro Molokini. We made reservations for 8:40 and were promptly seated at an outer table overlooking the swimming pool area. We ordered the onion ring appetizer and a kalua pork flat bread pizza. The food was excellent! The onion rings were very possibly the best I’ve ever had.
The service however, was abysmal. Our server never spoke to us from the time we ordered until she came to ask if we wanted dessert. She helped adjacent tables several times and totally ignored us. My beer glass was empty for the majority of the meal. On top of it all, she was rude and unfriendly. I’m a classic passive Midwesterner when it comes to things like this so I very rarely complain about restaurant service. But this was really bad. The manager must have overheard us talking about the server and offered us free dessert or another round of beers for our trouble. We accepted the free beer. (ValueTactics pro-tip: free beer is rare in the U.S. – take advantage of it when you can!)
Aside from the bad service the place was also extremely loud, with groups of individuals standing by the bar emitting almost non-stop, boisterous, cackling laughter. It’s probably not fair to judge and entire restaurant based on what was very likely just one employee’s bad day. On the other hand, Bistro Molokini had one chance to make an impression on us and it was generally negative, so that’s the review I have to give it. The only aspects that saved our dining experience from being a total disaster were the great food and lovely scenery.
After a valet driver called the Grotto Bar for us and confirmed that the Packers-Vikings game would be on the TVs, we decided this is where we would park ourselves for the Sunday evening (early afternoon in Hawaii) NFL game. Nicoleen managed to find one open seat at the end of the bar right before the game started. I joined her and we promptly staked a claim on the bar for Packer Nation:
The grotto was packed. The lone bartender, Tim, was shuttling out $13 cocktails at an incredible rate. We weren’t there for cocktails, however; a Packers-Vikings game requires beer. Unfortunately for us, the draft beers all ran dry shortly after we arrived. Even several of the bottled beer choices were eventually exhausted. Apparently the Grotto Bar is a “while supplies last” kind of operation. We were able to supplement our beverage needs with our own drinks brought from our beach bag. I think this is acceptable as long as we periodically ordered food or drink from the bar. Maybe the fact that the entire bar had one beer choice available (Corona cans) helped to soften their outside food and beverage policy. Or maybe it’s always like that- I don’t know.
We ordered shredded pork nachos ($17) which was more than enough food to keep us full for the whole game. They were filling, but otherwise unremarkable.
Speaking of the “whole game” here’s where our major complaint about the Grotto Bar comes in. All three TVs had the same football game on. The place was raking in many hundreds of dollars per hour with just the one bartender. And yet, around the end of the 3rd quarter, we noticed that the water was being drained from the seating area. Shortly after noticing this, Tim was taking requests for last call. The Grotto Bar closes at 5:00 PM! Even with one quarter left of a major sports game on the TV, there was no stopping the closing time. We were shocked. We had to make the 10 minute trek to our room to watch the end of the game.
Like the other swimming pool features, the Grotto Bar has a bizarrely early closing time. Well, it was fun (and expensive) while it lasted. (Props to bartender Tim for staying upbeat and super friendly despite the beer shortage and the angry mob of football fans having their game viewing cut short!)
Cost and Value
This is the fun part 🙂 At the time of booking (9 months in advance) the best available rate for our room was $326.80/night. With the $30 resort fee, the $30 valet fee, and all taxes, the total would have been $435.93/night. We used free weekend night certificates for our two nights at the Grand Wailea, earned as the sign-up bonus on Nicoleen’s Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card. The free night certificates cover the resort fee so our only cost was the valet fee plus tax. In total we got an $871.86 stay for $62.50!
Even if you want to include the $95 up-front annual fee on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card as part of our cost, it’s still extreme value! When calculating the value of the annual fee, don’t forget the value of the perks that the gold status got us during our stay: free internet, the $20 restaurant voucher, the 2 drink coupons, and the 1000 bonus points (worth about $3).
Overall Thoughts and Tips for Your Stay
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the Grand Wailea. It definitely has a different feel than our previous hotel on the trip, the Hyatt Andaz. (In the near future I would like to write an entire blog post comparing the two.) It took us some time to adjust to the sheer size and scope of the place. There is a bit of a learning curve to getting your full enjoyment out of this resort. That’s not meant in a negative way; only to highlight the amount of opportunities the Grand Wailea has to offer.
The intuitive layout and elegant appointments of the guest room were definitely a highlight for us. Despite the disappointing hours of operation we repeatedly encountered at the pool complex, this watery wonderland was also a major favorite of ours. If we were infatuated with the design and landscaping of the swimming pool area, I can only imagine what the younger guests though of it. I think my 10 year old self would have been in heaven at this place!
If you have an upcoming stay at the Grand Wailea, here are some random tips Nicoleen and I came up with, based on our stay:
- Learn the hours of operation for the pool area features early, and incorporate this knowledge into your daily schedule.
- Plan ahead when you leave your room; many of them require quite a long walk to get to the restaurants, pools, and beach.
- If you’re in the Molokini Wing, bring your car to the north valet. It will make a shorter walk for you and a shorter car retrieval for the valet drivers.
- Don’t be shy about bringing your own beverages and snacks with you to the pool complex. The nice attendant at the Hibiscus pool even got ice for us to mix our own drinks several times. You can even sip your libations while on the lazy river.
- Most basic rooms don’t include a microwave; request one early if you want one brought up for you.
- If you can’t get a late check-out, take advantage of the hospitality room to extend your stay.
🙂 Thanks for reading my review! 🙂